Israel ranks high in counterfeit pharmaceutical tradeWe're on the map, but the wrong map: In 2008 Israel ranked eighth in the world's counterfeit pharmaceuticals trade, with 78 reported cases of fake drugs worth up to NIS 100 million. And those were only the cases that were caught.

The figures, based on data from the World Health Organization, Health Ministry and drug safety watchdogs, were released at a conference on drug counterfeiting last week, sponsored by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Pharma Israel. But clearly, the figures reveal only part of the problem, as they reflect only fake drugs that were caught.

"Alongside the safe supply chain, which passes through drug stores, health maintenance organizations and businesses licensed to sell non-prescription drugs, there is a criminal, counterfeit trade network that includes a wide variety of criminal practices," says Micky Arieli, who manages the Health Ministry's pharmaceutical crime unit.

The network includes anything "from drug store break-ins to production to smuggling," he said.

The counterfeit drug trade has been booming everywhere in recent years. Industry sources estimate that the scope of the plague will double between 2005 and 2010, reaching $75 billion annually.

The Health Ministry and pharmaceutical companies warn that aside from causing the latter financial damage, the trade poses a danger to consumers. Counterfeit drugs kill thousands of people around the world every year, due to the drugs' poor quality and the fact that no prescription is required, which can result in improper use, says the WHO.

Federation president Uriel Lynn says the problem poses a mortal danger, and should be addressed as such. He called on authorities to increase deterrence, and to punish offenders as if they were drug dealers.

Knesset member Yohanan Plesner recently submitted a legislative amendment that cracks down on counterfeiting.

"Pharmaceutical enforcement manpower should be doubled, and entities beyond the police, such as the Health Ministry and the Tax Authority, should be authorized to deal with the problem," Plesner said. "The emphasis should be on immediate sanctions rather than extended legal proceedings, so that this trade won't pay."